Too often have I read this passage and imagined the master flipping coins out to the servants and then expecting to receive some coins in return. In reality, this "talent" was equivalent to more than 15 years of wages. In modern numbers even the one who received one talent would have received between $300,000 and $900,000 if he were making $20-60k a year. So even the one who received the least received an enormous sum.
Why then is he punished? I believe the key lies in the servant's own words, "I knew." He tells the master that he knew the master was demanding but still did nothing. He knew that something would be required of him and yet he was slothful. He tries to throw off the blame when he says, "Here you have what is yours" as if to say, "you didn't loose anything, what's the big deal?" The big deal is that he knew. He knew what was required of him and he chose to do nothing. By doing nothing, the master does loose. At the very least he looses the interest that could have been obtained if it were given to a banker. In the realm of God, quite possibly, souls are lost because of this slothfulness.
How does this apply to you and me? God has given us far more than wages. He has given us everything in the natural world as well as the priceless gift of grace. Some of us have received more in these areas than others but that gives us no right to be lazy. God has invested a great deal in us. He went so far as to invest His own blood. How can we not work to give Him some sort of return? Buried treasure is worthless. It must be dug up and used to be of any worth to anyone.
When our time comes to settle accounts with the Master we will have no excuse to offer. We will stand before Him and either hear one of two phrases - "Well done, good and faithful servant...enter the joy of your master." or "You knew...cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness..." We must be wise and invest in Our Father's business while there is still time.
FROM THE SAINTS - "Don't lose your effectiveness; instead, trample on your selfishness. You think your life is for yourself? Your life is for God, for the good of all men, through your love for our Lord. Your buried talent, dig it up again! Make it yield." - Saint Josemaria Escriva Friends of God, 47